It’s November. We’re approaching the season when I have to focus on getting all the gifts I need for the holidays. So where better to spend a day than in the iconic Grand Central Terminal rail station in New York City?
And who better to spend the day with than Connie Breslin, the merchandising consultant behind their Holiday Fair – one of the most stunning showcases of hand crafted gifts you’re ever likely to see.
(The entrance to the Holiday Fair at Grand Central Terminal, New York.
Photo Credit : MTA/Patrick Cashin)
From delicate glass tree decorations – each of which is a genuine work of art – to elegant knitwear fashioned from recycled cashmere, every stall is unique. The craftsmanship and creativity that has produced this dazzling array of products is evident everywhere you look. Stylish salt and pepper sets, handsome jewellery that would look fabulous at a glittering seasonal ball, photography to grace the most stylish wall – you really are spoiled for choice.
I wondered how Connie was able to find so many retailers offering such high-quality gifts to fill Vanderbilt Hall in the Terminal. And I was not surprised to learn just how long it took to find the right people, offering the right mix of products. “We have a casting call in April, then people come and present to show what they have on offer. I am also out on the road all year looking for worthy candidates,” she explained. “Applications close in June and I then present to a committee who make the final selection on who is included.” Not surprisingly, they have 100s applying for consideration in what is a very competitive process.
But with over 750,000 people passing through every day, getting a chance to promote their work at such an iconic location is clearly an amazing break for the craftspeople lucky enough to be selected.
“In Grand Central Terminal, they can sell to commuters, local residents and people who work in the area. But it’s also a chance to showcase to the department stores, so it can be an exciting opportunity for them. We’ve had people start here who have gone on to run worldwide businesses,” she told me.
I asked Connie what she looked for in an artisan. She considers the question carefully.
“Creativity, exclusivity, quality and commitment to their product. And they should have a story. Our customers love to hear them talk about their products, what motivates them, how and why they make what they do.”
As we wandered through the vast hall and Connie introduced me to some of the artisans, it was obvious she loves the opportunity to nurture new talent. She described them as a mother might, when proudly boasting of her children’s accomplishments and clearly enjoys seeing them succeed.
The retail trade is undoubtedly in Connie’s blood and I was not surprised to hear she had a long and successful career in the industry. She told me about her career, working her way up to a senior management job with Bloomingdales. She’d also sold fabulous jewellery at Tiffany’s and been a personal shopping consultant. She was so full of infectious enthusiasm, I was sure she would bring a lot of fun to shopping - even for those who don’t normally see a trip to the shops as a pleasurable activity.
Having retired early, she found she was missing not being part of the bustle of the retail trade, particularly during the holiday period, so it was no surprise she was soon recruited to run this special fair at Grand Central Terminal.
(The Great Northern Food Hall at Grand Central Terminal, New York.
Photo Credit : MTA/Patrick Cashin)
For a moment, Connie and I slipped out of Vanderbilt Hall to find a space to share a dram as we continued our chat. We found a bench in Great Northern Food Hall, a new addition to the shopping and food experience in the Terminal building. This is the brainchild of Claus Meyer, co-founder of the internationally renowned and ground-breaking Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen. The food and drink stalls here all offer Nordic-inspired local produce and Jonas Andersen, the beverage manager, who himself knew and appreciated Benromach 10 Years Old, suggested we pair our dram with an apple and cinnamon bun. And I must say it was a triumph. I will certainly be trying that again over the holiday season.
The passion and commitment these artisans display was similar to the way the team at Benromach go about their job – creating a premium product while respecting the traditions and craftsmanship of past generations. The combination of a day’s shopping and a visit to this wonderful building was proving to be the perfect pairing and, as I gathered my bags of goodies and bid Connie and Grand Central Terminal farewell, I felt well and truly in the festive spirit.
As I took one last look at the wonderful Beaux Arts architecture of Grand Central Terminal, I noticed a plaque explaining the role played by Jackie Kennedy Onassis who campaigned to save the building when it was threatened with demolition in the 1970s.
As someone who enjoyed a bit of retail therapy herself, I am sure she would approve of its current use and admire the enthusiasm for genuine craftsmanship displayed by Connie and the artisans at the Holiday Fair.
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